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Music Review

For energetic Weller, there's no room for nostalgia

By Marc Hirsh
Globe Correspondent / September 11, 2008
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Paul Weller is a megastar in his native England, thanks to a decades-long career leading the Jam and the Style Council and as a solo artist. But one of the selfish pleasures of his failure to achieve similar American success is that you can catch him in venues as cozy as the Berklee Performance Center. That much was to be expected from his show on Tuesday.

More surprising was the very clear message that Weller is no dinosaur act. "We don't do requests," he declared, but anyone who was paying attention already knew that this wasn't a nostalgia seeker's show. (Luckily, it wasn't a nostalgia-seeking audience.) The Buzzcocks might make some noise from time to time, but Weller is really the last man standing from punk's class of '77, with his well-received new album, "22 Dreams," the latest entry in a still-vital career.

In a wry move perhaps appreciated only by crew members and obsessive note-takers, the nearly two-hour performance consisted of 22 songs, giving Weller ample opportunity to cover a wide swath of pop and rock styles. "Shadow of the Sun" and "All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You)" were essentially soul numbers dolled up with louder guitars, while "Sea Spray" and "Have You Made Up Your Mind?" took their cues from late-'60s Motown.

Weller also kept returning to psychedelia, with feedback, icy keyboards, and echoing vocals driving the codas to "Shadow of the Sun," "Porcelain Gods," and "Picking Up Sticks" (which even made room for a solo for drummer Steve Pilgrim). But he also dipped into the "Blonde on Blonde"-style pop of "Speak Like a Child," the smoky torchiness of "Invisible," and the English folk of "The Butterfly Collector," where Weller sang from a stool while more or less playing his cigarette like an instrument.

Regardless of his ever-changing moods (and despite a microphone that reduced much of his singing to mush), Weller remained nothing less than fully engaged and energetic, even as he led an ominous version of "Wild Wood" that, with its bass and drums given the deep-atmosphere treatment usually reserved for dub, could have sprung from Massive Attack.

Perhaps more telling was the way he threw himself into the closing "Town Called Malice" with more fervor than is usually expected for a song someone's been performing for a quarter-of-a-century. The audience took over the chorus chants for itself, as Weller was too busy throwing himself around the stage.

Paul Weller

At: Berklee Performance Center, Tuesday

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